The church should be encouraged by Christians in positions of governmental authority.
It is very easy for Christians to become discouraged when watching any cable news network, scrolling through their social media news feed or reading headlines from any news source. We read reports of threats to religious liberty, advancing erotic liberty, terrorism, the over-turning of pro-life legislation by the courts–the list goes on and on–and let’s not even mention the candidates for President of the United States. At every turn we see the very real threat of at least diminished religious liberty and, at most, a likely reality of real persecution of Christians at the hands of government and even corporate enterprise. For me, and I suspect many Christians, this discouraging news breeds a level of pessimism and acrimony that assumes the worst of those who comprise our government.
While this pessimism may be appropriate and understood in many cases, it is not so in all cases. I was reminded of this in my personal study of the book of Philippians. I was resisting the temptation to just breeze through the “Final Greetings” at the end of the book when I was struck by Paul’s profound encouragement to the church in Philippi in v. 4:22. He wrote, “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household” (ESV). Even though Paul was in chains under house arrest in Rome, he wanted the faithful to know that God was at work– even in the house of Caesar. In this short passage, I see two examples of encouragement and one implied exhortation that apply to us today.
Encouraging Example #1: There are Christians at all levels of our civil society.
This should be a very encouraging truth for us to remember. In Philippians 4:22, Paul is encouraging the church that there are servants of Christ and of Caesar even within the emperor’s own administration, including some in Caesar’s own Praetorian Guard (Philippians 1:13). Paul’s desire was to encourage the church by sending them greetings from their brothers and sisters in Christ who were also in service to the emperor. This must have been very good news for the early church as it was evidence of God’s sovereignty and an example of Paul’s courageous faithfulness.
For several years I was a lobbyist and political director for a large agriculture association and later a grassroots lobbyist for a large insurance company. While I admit the analogy of watching the legislative process is like watching a butcher make sausage is accurate, I found solace in a solid group of believers in my circle of relationships. These believers were co-workers, legislators, rule-makers and other lobbyists. We supported one another in prayer, through the study of God’s Word, and by encouraging one another with the mission of being salt and light in the unseasoned and dark world of politics and policy making. It wasn’t so much we were having an impact on the law of the land, but rather we were having an impact on one another– encouraging one another to persevere in Christ. Believe me, without the close accounts of faithful brothers and sisters, it would be easy to be drawn into the ugliness that is the unfortunate reality of policy making.
Throughout the Bible we see examples of God’s people who are placed in positions of service to pagan rulers. Joseph (Genesis 41:40), Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1:11), Esther (Esther 2:16-17) and Daniel (Daniel 2:46) to name a few, demonstrate how God can use his people in service to him (first) and to the magistrate (second). Today we can be assured there are faithful followers of Jesus Christ throughout our local, state, and federal government. We know this because they are our relatives, neighbors, friends and members of our congregations. They serve in various capacities– as soldiers, postal workers, school teachers, police officers, fire fighters, township trustees, county commissioners, tax assessors, judges and yes even as members of Congress. We can argue about the appropriate reach of government but, regardless, we should be thankful that there are some that are faithful to Christ as they also serve within the realm of the government. To that end, these individuals need our encouragement and our prayers because they may have to make decisions like Daniel did (cf. Daniel 6:10)– to be faithful first to God and to ultimately obey God rather than man (Acts 5:29). They also need our prayers as they no doubt draw the ire of superiors, co-workers, constituents and even the media as they attempt to serve in their appointed roles.
Encouraging example 2: God is still saving sinners.
Sometimes we forget to be encouraged by the obvious, God is still doing the work of drawing the lost to Himself. In Philippians 4:22 Paul is sending the amazing encouragement that indeed God is at work– even in the house of Caesar! Remember the church is in its infant stages at this point and there are already followers of Jesus Christ in Caesar’s administration. Paul wanted the Philippians to know that, through the faithfulness of believers like them, God is building His church and that even people close to the emperor are repenting and believing. This must have been an encouragement to the young Christian church in that day.
We would do well to be encouraged by the same truth today. The Gospel of Christ is still changing hearts, perhaps even hearts of some who govern us. We should be fervently praying that God bring revival in our land and in our world. Specifically, we should be praying for the conversion of those in governmental and political authority to be saved. Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:1-4,
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
While working in the policy making sector, I personally saw Jesus change the lives of people of influence. I grant you it wasn’t a regular occurrence, but it did happen. Paul urges us to pray for such individuals that they may govern well and even be saved. I know it is still happening, because Christ is still building His church.
Implied exhortation: We must continue to preach the Gospel.
When we understand these two encouragements, it seems to me there is an implied exhortation that demands a response– preach the Gospel! If we believe Christ is still building His church, even in the house of Caesar, we should be emboldened to continue the work of the Gospel because we know we have brothers and sisters in Christ sharing the Gospel as well.
We should look at Paul’s example. As he penned this encouraging letter to the Philippians, he was chained to a Roman guard. He literally had a captive audience. No doubt he used this opportunity to preach the Gospel and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how the Gospel was spreading through the Praetorian Guard. I’m sure it initially seemed to be quite the coup de grâce that Paul was in custody. However, Paul’s arrest turned out to be opportunity to preach the Gospel to soldiers, governors, and maybe even the emperor himself. (cf. Mark 13:9; Acts 9:15; Acts 26; Acts 26; Acts 27:24). As followers of Christ we must be a winsome and prophetic voice to those who need Christ, and this includes the people who mean to govern us.
It may be true that the day is at hand where our government will seek to silence our faith. The effort was unsuccessful in Paul’s day and such an effort will be equally unsuccessful today. Therefore our response remains the same: We should be encouraged that Christ is building His church–even among those in Caesar’s house–and our encouragement turns to joy as we preach the Gospel of love to those God means to save.